Amish, Mennonite survivors of childhood sexual assault join others to fight for a chance for justice

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As survivors of child sexual abuse gathered on the front steps of the Pennsylvania Capitol to advocate for the passage of legislation allowing legal action against sexual abusers, Rep. Mark Rozzi, D-Berks County, offered a fitting opening remark: “Here we go again.”

He was alluding to the long battle that he and others in the General Assembly have fought to pass legislation which would open a two-year “window of justice” for survivors to bring civil lawsuits against their abusers, regardless of whether the statute of limitations expired.

Survivors from Mennonite and Amish communities attended the Monday rally to speak about sexual abuse they said is quietly spreading through their communities.

Mary Byler, who was featured in the Peacock documentary “Sins of the Amish,” shared the story of her sexual abuse in an Amish community in Western Pennsylvania.

“In those churches, I endured approximately eight years of childhood sexual abuse that is indescribable,” Byler said. “There are hundreds of thousands of survivors right here in Pa, and who are we, as a commonwealth, as a people, to turn our backs on the most vulnerable people, our children?”

Plain sect communities often teach against reporting crime to law enforcement, and the punishment of perpetrators is handled within the church. Misty Griffin, author of “Tears of the Silenced,” a memoir of her Amish childhood filled with sexual abuse, said that for some sexual abusers, their only punishment is six weeks of shunning.

When Audrey Kauffman, who was Amish at the time, realized that her husband was abusing her daughters, she reported the abuse, filed for divorce and got a restraining order. Her life became what she called a living hell, while her ex-husband continued in the Amish community.

“When I came forward with the truth, and I reported the abuse, the harassment from the community was shocking. They did everything they possibly could to silence me, to shut us down, and to invalidate our truth,” Kauffman said. “We can do better. We can do a lot better. And for as progressive as we are as a state, we should’ve done better a long time ago for the sake of innocent children in subcultures of religion who have no voices. For their sake, I ask you today to pass these bills. “

Often, when Mennonite and Amish survivors are ready to report abuse, they are told that the statute of limitations prevents them from seeking justice against their perpetrator, allowing more children to fall victim to sexual abuse, Griffin said.

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